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Collaboration Tools for Business

Social Collaboration Tools for Business

Take a look at how modern professionals conduct business today in comparison to just a decade ago, and it's quite clear just how much has changed.

In the past, collaborating with others on a project typically meant being in the same room as everyone else. While in-person collaboration certainly has it's advantages, it comes along with a great deal of logistical issues that often make things more difficult than is necessary, especially for companies who work with remote employees.

Today's solution to this issue is known as 'social collaboration," and it's one of the biggest game-changers to come along in years.

What is Social Collaboration?

To put it simply...

Social collaboration is a collection of processes and tools that allow colleagues to interact with each other (as well as with partners and customers) via web-based systems to share information and work towards a common goal.

Collaboration tools for businesses is one of the best ways for compaines that employ individuals in a variety of geographic locations to streamline workflow, and there's no getting around the fact that it's catching on rather quickly in the business community at large.

Effective at improving efficiency, productivity, and innovation, social collaboration combines aspects of social media, traditional business and crowdsourcing to create an experience unlike anything else.

What Does Social Collaboration Do For Business?

If social collaboration is catching on for any reason in particular, it's because it's extremely beneficial to businesses of many different industries.

For one, it allows remote workers to communicate and work with one another in a streamlined manner, which up until now has been easier said than done in many circumstances. This not only improves efficiency, but also lets workers who might not have the chance to get to know each other find ways to work in harmony and build relationships.

Social collaboration is progressive in nature, making it an ideal platform for forward-thinking businesses.

It fosters the creation of ideas that might not otherwise come to fruition, nips potential issues in the bud, and generally creates a more enjoyable, stress-free work environment.

For businesses that operate outside of a centralized location, social collaboration is a dream come true.

The 3 Crucial Elements of Social Collaboration

As one might expect, social collaboration relies on a variety of factors in order to work at peak performance. While there are many viewpoints on what goes into effective social collaboration, it's helpful to look at things in terms of three crucial elements — people, processes and technology.

Element #1: People

The first, most crucial element of social collaboration to take into consideration is people. Without people, the entire concept of social collaboration would fall apart on every level. The people involved in a particular project are the true source of innovation, fueling collaborations with ideas and knowledge.

There are a few constants in social collaboration associated with this particular element. Among the greater category of 'people," it's typical for the following pieces of the puzzle to be in place —

  • A Skilled Leader - Just as every ship needs a captain, social collaboration doesn't work efficiently without having a skilled leader around. Leadership usually comes in the form of a single person or a small managerial team of individuals who exhibit the skills necessary to guide a team through a project. While leadership skills are essential, though, they're not enough. An effective leader will have at least some experience with social collaboration, perhaps having worked as part of a team via social business software at one point or another.
  • A Competent Team - Having a solid leader around is surely important, but it's not enough. A competent team of individuals is essential to getting the most out of social collaboration, comprised of employees who not only have the ability to quickly adapt their style of work without issue, but are also able to contribute ideas and information that could help move a project forward. All team members should exhibit strong communication skills as well as the ability to work well with others. In many ways, choosing the right team for social collaboration is not unlike staffing a traditional business, although the technological element means managers need to be even more discerning in who they allow on their team.
  • A Shared Goal - One of the most crucial aspects of quality social collaboration is that everyone involved needs to be working toward a common goal. This is what drives individuals to give it their all and truly add to the conversation — something that can get lost in the mix in the world of traditional business. Whatever the goal may be, it's important that it be outlined ahead of time so that everyone involved can remind themselves of what they're working for. A goal is only achievable if it's clear and present, after all.
  • Trust - Trust is the thread that binds everything together in social collaboration. Many instances of social collaboration cause the individuals involved to rely on one another to a certain degree, especially when viewed in relation to specific tasks. Building trust can be difficult when in-person communication isn't always an option, however, which is why it's so important to focus on the 'social" element of social collaboration and to never neglect aspects of fun/personalization in social business.

Element #2 - Process

Process, the second element of social collaboration tools for businesses, is a bit less tangible than the first, but not exactly more difficult to understand. In many ways, process describes workflow, taking into consideration everything that comes with working in a socially collaborative environment. In general, those who are more used to a typical model of business will have to change their process slightly in order to facilitate collaboration, especially when the majority of which is done online.

When adjusting one's process, there are a few things that need to be kept in mind. Hitting on all of the following will ensure that you're getting the most out of social collaboration, all the while not having to think too hard about it —

  • Strategy - The first thing to think about when adjusting your process is strategy. Strategy directly affects the ways in which you go about reaching your goal, and it's especially pertinent when you're working with others. Having a solid plan set into place that you can refer back to when necessary will help to make sure that you not only stay on track, but don't run into issues along the way. Typically, strategy is outlined by whomever is leading a team.
  • Priorities - Once a strategy is set in place, priorities need to be outlined. Each person who is part of a team will likely have their own unique set of priorities to follow, although it's not uncommon for certain individuals to handle similar tasks to one another depending upon the project at hand. As with having a solid strategy to follow, properly outlined priorities will keep you from straying from the path you set for yourself.
  • Data Sharing Policies - No one wants to police members of their team, but it's always important to remember to implement data sharing policies when working with a number of individuals in a shared collaborative space. In many cases, rigid guidelines won't be necessary. When you're dealing with sensitive information, however, setting clear policies around data sharing can be an integral part of seeing a project through in the most secure manner possible.

Element #3 - Technology

The third and final element of social collaboration is technology. One thing that sometimes gets overlooked is just how important technology actually is to modern collaboration. Without it, collaborating with colleagues who might live on the other side of the planet would be next to impossible. Social collaboration technology can be a bit daunting at first, but anyone who has ever used a social media network will likely have no difficulty diving in.

There are a few different technological platforms that can help to foster social collaboration, including —

  • Social Business Software (SBS) - Without business social networking software, social collaboration wouldn't be nearly as streamlined as it is today. This type of software serves as a portal that allows employees to build discussions, share documents, schedule meetings and perform a variety of other essential tasks. While relatively new, social collaboration tools are becoming more and more commonplace as time goes on and is a natural evolution from the forums, information silos and other platforms that came before it.
  • Teleconferencing/Skype/VoIP - SBS may be the jumping-off point for social collaboration, but it's not the only element that can be employed. Teleconferencing via Skype, a VoIP phone system or other tool is a great way for people who are working together to actually have a face-to-face conversation without having to be in the same room as one another. Most businesses utilize these platforms to some extent, and some wouldn't be able to get by without it. When combined with social collaboration tools, teleconferencing tools can be quite powerful.
  • Integration With Existing Systems - Integrating collaboration software and teleconferencing tools with systems that already exist in your business is of the utmost importance. Sales, inventory, and other existing systems can sometimes get lost in the shuffle when transitioning to a more socially collaborative environment, but they don't have to. More often than not, it comes down to choosing the right type of social business software, as not all options allow you to consolidate everything into one spot.

Tips for Implementing Social Collaboration Tools Into Your Business

For the most part, the concept of social collaboration makes perfect sense. Implementing it into a business that hasn't utilized it in the past, however, sometimes comes along with an adjustment period.

If you're able to internalize the following tips, you should be able to get on track with minimal interruption should a problem occur —

  • Start Slow, But Start Now - Transitioning to an entirely new type of work environment can be a jarring process, especially for team members who have never utilized social collaboration tools in the past. Starting slow allows you and your team to dip your toes into the water rather than dive in head first, which typically results in less stress and associated issues. If your team is overly confused, after all, productivity is only going to fall.
  • Choose the Right Social Business Software - With so many different options to choose from, finding social business software that is right for your company can be a trying experience. Look for that which allows you to communicate via posts/messaging with others in your space, share documents without issue, create wiki pages and blogs and pitch ideas to the entire community (as well as smaller groups within the community). Avoid 'one-size-fits-all" software, which cannot be tailored specifically to the needs of your organization.
  • Work With a Collaboration Expert - For some people, social collaboration is not only a new and exciting concept, but something to base a career on. Collaboration experts are out there, many of which have developed their own proprietary software and know the ins and outs of working in a socially collaborative environment. Having someone on-hand for at least a short period of time is one of the best ways to get a team up to speed on social collaboration and will keep potential issues from popping up.

Social collaboration can be extremely complex concept, involving a variety of different aspects that can take a while to understand fully. When properly utilized, however, it can be a beautiful thing. If you're aware of the elements that make social collaboration what it is, you're one step closer to getting the most out of it.

 

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Tim Eisenhauer
Written by Tim Eisenhauer

Tim is president and co-founder of Axero Solutions and author of Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Mastering Employee Engagement. He’s been featured in Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur, CNBC, Today, and other leading publications.

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